(Underground Power 2017)
Call it a quirk or an old-guy idiosyncrasy, but with few exceptions I don’t review albums unless I have the retail, physical CD in hand. I find I get a much fuller, more complete picture of an album by studying artwork, lyrics and liner notes while listening to the actual CD than by playing mp3 files in the ether. The downside to this approach, of course, is that it can result in tardy reviews in certain circumstances. Thus it is with the Satan’s Hallow self-titled album, which was actually released back in April to coincide with the Chicago quintet’s triumphant appearance at the Keep It True festival in Germany. Because of various logistical delays and frustrations, a copy of the album reached my doorstep only recently. But Satan’s Hallow is strong enough that it absolutely warrants the spotlight being shone on it even now, four months after its street date.
Imagine a new band that has mastered and assimilated everything from 1980s traditional U.S. power metal to the best of the NWOBHM movement to that hard rockin’, good-time Windy City sound epitomized by the likes of Zuul and High Spirits. Imagine they’ve written a batch of ultra-catchy, predominantly sub-4 minute songs with strong riffs, ripping twin guitar parts, and memorable choruses. Imagine they’ve got a female vocalist with a classic rock/metal voice sure to attract favorable comparisons to Warlock-era Doro Pesch, but with a street-level attitude, energy and charisma all her own. Imagine lyrical content that is equal turns creepy, cryptic, and compelling. And imagine the whole package wrapped in suitably old-school, sometimes muffled production values, with eerie cover artwork that encapsulates its contents perfectly. If you’re like me, you’re thinking these ingredients would add up to a superb album, one of the standout releases of 2017. If you’re thinking that, you would be 100% correct.
Satan’s Hallow is 34 minutes of addictive, handcrafted, old-fashioned heavy metal at its finest. From the laidback, rockin’ jams of “Hot Passion” and “Satan’s Hallow” to the breathless energy animating “The Horror” and “Reaching for the Night” to the dignified, majestic, understated “Still Alive,” Satan’s Hallow travel confidently, expertly through darkened realms of arcane metal glory, riding inspired riffs and Mandy Mantillo’s bewitching vocals deep into the night. Guitarist Von Jugel is a truly gifted writer, with a knack for penning hooks and melodies that worm their way into your subconscious and haunt your thoughts and dreams. Like any master craftsmen, Satan’s Hallow save the best for last, as the album closes with the sublime, speedy “Beyond the Bells,” easily in the running for my favorite song of the year. “You will never know when it is time for you / Beyond the bells, into the hells of heroes, saints, and fools.” Wow! This song is so good that the Keep It True organizers used it as the soundtrack for their video montage from the 2017 festival. High praise indeed, and totally deserving of it. “Beyond the Bells” was actually the first song I heard from the album, as Satan’s Hallow made it the preview track to build excitement as the release date approached. From the first listen, I was captivated, and I bet you will be too.
To those naysayers who posit that the genre of traditional metal is stale and boring, Satan’s Hallow raise a defiant middle finger. Perhaps they’re not doing anything new, but they’re doing it in an exciting, energetic and endearing manner that crackles with vibrant, life-affirming energy, power and strength. I’m going to have to clear some space on my top 10 list for 2017. Satan’s Hallow rules.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~